The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is being drafted in to advise fruit and veg growers on how to secure seasonal labour post-2013, The Grocer can reveal.
Currently, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) provides a way for growers to recruit workers from Bulgaria and Romania to help with the seasonal planting, gathering, processing and packing of crops, but it finishes at the end of next year.
The Home Office - which is responsible for SAWS - intends to ask the MAC to review the workings of the current scheme and advise on a possible replacement.
“The Committee will look at how the current system works, how any scheme succeeding the current one will work and if there is a need for one,” a Home Office spokesman said.
The move comes in the wake of mounting concerns among growers that they will not be able to recruit enough seasonal workers to harvest their crops when the scheme ends.
Last week, speaking during a Commons debate on SAWS, farming minister Jim Paice warned of the potential damage to the domestic fruit industry if seasonal labour could not be secured. “It would be absolutely tragic if we allowed that trend of increasing domestic production to go into reverse because we were unable to harvest domestic fruit [Hansard Debates for 20 June 2012].”
The government was not yet in a position to decide if the farming sector could meet its seasonal labour needs from workers in the UK and the rest of the EU post-2013, he said. He hoped, however, that stakeholders would have the opportunity to provide evidence to the MAC.
Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions agreed to set up a working group to look at encouraging out-of-work Brits to consider working in horticulture.